TIMESHARE owners are being warned to be on their guard against dodgy firms which claim they can sell holiday-property shares or win compensation for previous timeshare resale scams, if they make an upfront payment.
Jennifer Conway, who has a Marbella timeshare that she has never visited but costs her £200 a year, was targeted by one such firm.
She was cold-called by Greenges SL which said it could help her to recoup cash she had already sent to a resale company in a bid to escape her timeshare contract.“The company called me out of the blue and said that it could get my money back on a no-win, no-fee basis but then asked for £1,200 for ‘translation services’,” said Conway, a 75-year-old former restaurant owner from London.
It is illegal for timeshare companies to ask for money up front.
Sandy Grey at the TCA
“The person I was speaking to seemed very convincing so I paid that amount by credit card over the phone.”Fortunately, however, her daughter then decided to look into the company, which turned out to be on the Timeshare Consumers Association (TCA) blacklist.Sandy Grey at the TCA said: “We know of lots of people who have paid Greenges more than £1,000 to sell their timeshares but still have them.”On finding this out, Conway’s daughter immediately contacted the company and insisted it refunded the money as per its seven-day cooling-off period.This has now been done. However, Greenges, which describes itself as “a professional mediation company”, is breaking the law by asking for an up-front fee.As of February 2011, an EU directive bans resale companies from levying charges until an actual sale has taken place or a contract has been otherwise terminated.“It is illegal to ask for money up front. Greenges is therefore breaking the law, as well as failing to fulfil its promises,” said Grey.The fact that it cold-called Jennifer Conway to offer its services is also a very bad sign.Alberto Garcia, director at action group Mindtimeshare, said: “Legitimate law firms never cold-call people and the reason is simple, they lack your contact details unless you hand them over.”Greenges, which declined to comment on Conway’s case, is far from the only dodgy timeshare-related company targeting UK timeshare owners.The TCA has hundreds of firms on its blacklist, which is growing all the time.“Most companies disappear after about 15 to 18 months, only to reappear under a new name,” said Grey.“In a lot of cases, we find that it’s the same people running the same scam but under a new name.”Worse still, the new companies often then target people like Conway, who have already lost out to them or their competitors. Here, we explain the murky, multi-million pound timeshare industry and how to avoid being caught out by the many related scams. How do timeshares work?Timeshares, which became popular in the 1980s, allow people to buy a share in a property, often a holiday flat in a coastal resort, for a one-off sum.They then have access for a set number of weeks each year, either for a fixed number of years or, more commonly, “in perpetuity”.So what’s the problem?Timeshares are often sold via high-pressure presentations, to which you might be lured by the promise of a free holiday.Many owners are left feeling they were mis-sold as a result. For most people, however, the main issue is that the contracts, especially those that run in perpetuity, are very difficult to escape.They are therefore left paying high and often soaring, annual management fees whether they use the holiday property or not.“We looked at one big timeshare company and found that its annual fees had doubled in the last nine years,” said Grey.“That’s the main reason why so many people are desperate to get out of their contracts at the moment.”How do timeshare resale companies work? Dodgy timeshare resale companies will generally contact you promising to sell your timeshare, get you out of your timeshare contract or win compensation from the companies who have failed to sell your timeshare.However, it is important to be on your guard whatever the story.Many, for example, will claim to be lawyers or representatives of a government body in a bid to win your trust, while the majority will say they make no up-front charges, at first. Then they will claim that you have to pay for “services” which could include legal fees or tax, in order to complete the sale or compensation bid.Once this payment has been made or the firm has got its hands on your card details, allowing it to drain your account, you will hear nothing more from them.Is it possible to escape a timeshare agreement?Timeshare contracts are notoriously hard to sell. Even legitimate timeshare resale companies such as TCA-endorsed Timeshare Shop are unlikely to be able to help because there are so many people trying to get out of them.“There is no easy answer,” added Grey. “We believe that there are about 400 sellers to every one buyer in the market at the moment.”Many companies will also impose a transfer fee should you find a buyer. If you can, the best option may be to hand ownership back to the timeshare organisation concerned, although not all of them will allow this.